The Blue Salt Road by Joanne M Harris

(7.5/10) This is a tale to read on a cold night, wrapped in a blanket. The story evokes the sea as well as the brutality of human nature.

The Blue Salt Road is a new novella by Joanne M. Harris, with illustrations by Bonnie Hawkins. In this story we follow a male selkie from the Grey Seal Clan as he embarks on a dangerous adventure. Being young he feels invincible, and decides to not take his clan’s advice to stay away from the folk. It is his stupidity that will bring him face to face with an unknowable nightmare.

This story is simply told, and feels like a fairytale or a fable, and brings with it a darkness as well as an inevitableness to the events as they unfold. It was also interesting to read the story as a gender reversal of the normal tale of selkie women being tricked into staying with the folk. The selkie themselves do not have names, but we follow the male selkie as his confidence about being on the beach grows, and he begins a dalliance with Flora. Flora is one of the folk and she was raised with the tales (passed on from her grandmother) of the selkie and how to keep them from leaving. Flora is not unkind, but she is selfish and trapped in these stories, where she wants to marry a prince and raise his child. Flore generally feels that she is better than the rest of the folk around her.

The novella is interspersed with beautiful illustrations by Bonnie Hawkins. These illustrations really work well throughout the novella, emphasising parts of the story without overwhelming it. Hawkins shows the clans of the sea in all of their glory and you can really see the movements of the ocean and how it all connects to each other. With these visual representations of the characters, you can really imagine the world they live in,

The story turns to horror as the selkie not only loses his seal skin, but also loses his memories of who and what he was, to the point where he doesn’t (luckily for her) even remember Flora. Flora for her own part, couldn’t be happier and weaves a tale about who her new beau is. Although Flora is not malicious in her actions, she doesn’t understand what she has done, and rationalises that she has done this for the right reasons, including helping a savage selkie become civilised!

As well as moments of horror, the tale is also full of sadness. We follow the selkie’s realisation that he has lost something greater than just his memories of who he was before. Although the selkie was prideful in thinking he would never get trapped by the folk, no one deserves the life he ends up living. This story also shows how the selkie changing into a man affects those around him, whether it is Flora’s father trying to teach his new son in law a trade or how the selkies of his clan mourn the loss of one of their own.

This is a tale to read on a cold night, wrapped in a blanket. The story evokes the sea as well as the brutality of human nature, as it seeks to exploit the differences we each have from one another without realising the similarities. With the shocking ending and the harsh truths that follow, the story almost becomes a morality tale. Although Harris does not point out who is right and who is wrong, just that everyone has to live with the consequences of their actions.

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